Cooper outlines COVID wish list

Gov. Roy Cooper
Gov. Roy Cooper

Gov. Roy Cooper this afternoon proposed almost $5 billion in budget requests using federal COVID-19 funding.
Among the proposed uses for the money are $37 million for minority businesses, $2 billion for public and private schools, bonuses for public school teachers and staff, and $30 million for expanding high speed internet across the state.

“North Carolinians have stood strong during this pandemic and we are ready to move our state forward,” Cooper said. “The past year has tested all of us but we must work together on a focused, responsible plan to help families and businesses survive and grow strong while we bolster our economy and health care system and make sure students and teachers are in classrooms ready to learn. We can emerge from these challenging times stronger than ever.”

Cooper has asked the General Assembly to combine federal stimulus funds along with state resources for immediate critical needs. The money would come from the state’s share of the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 which was signed into law Dec. 27. The federal appropriation totaled more than $4 billion for North Carolina. 

Strict rules apply to the new federal funding, cooper said, but with a General Assembly appropriation the plan would provide more COVID relief such as vaccines, more supplies to slow the virus spread, help for rent and utility bills, and more funding for food. 
The federal funds will provide:

  • Approximately $2 billion for emergency assistance for public and private K-12 schools and higher education institutions.
  • $336 million for childcare and development block grants.
  • Approximately $700 million for access to vaccines and testing, tracing and prevention measures to slow the spread of the virus.
  • $546 million for emergency rental assistance, which will build on North Carolina’s current work. While this is the first dedicated federal funding for rental assistance, North Carolina recognized the extraordinary need to help people stay in their homes during the pandemic and created the HOPE program to pay back rent and utilities using last year’s CRF funds.
  • $258 million for Highway Infrastructure and $65 million for airports.
  • $47 million for Community Mental Health Services.
  • Funding for food assistance programs, such as SNAP and school nutrition.

Cooper is also asking for $695 million from the state’s general fund to address other immediate needs. North Carolina’s general fund has more than $4 billion in unreserved cash. Those funds would include:

  • $50 million for continued hazard duty pay for state employees on the frontlines of COVID-19, especially law enforcement and corrections personnel who face COVID-19 every day.
  • $64.5 million for the replenishment of the North Carolina State Health Plan, which has incurred costs responding to COVID-19.
  • $468 million for bonuses for educators and school personnel in public K-12 schools, community colleges and the university system. 
  • $30 million to extend high-speed internet across the state and other initiatives, such as IT infrastructure, security for community colleges and enhancement of 35,000 hotspots used for education.
  • $37 million to support small businesses that have suffered during the pandemic and often don’t have large cash reserves, including small business counselling, marketing for tourism and hospitality, ReTOOLNC program for historically underutilized businesses (HUBs), and the business loan program at Golden L.E.A.F.
  • Expansion of state unemployment benefits. North Carolina’s Unemployment Trust Fund remains healthy, Cooper said, with a balance of more than $2.59 billion. His plan would increase the maximum duration of benefits to 26 weeks and increase the maximum benefit from $350 to $500 per week. 

A more complete proposed biennial budget will be presented later in the legislative session.

About Jefferson Weaver 2095 Articles
Jefferson Weaver is the Managing Editor of Columbus County News and he can be reached at (910) 914-6056, (910) 632-4965, or by email at [email protected].